US Sec State speaks with Iraqi President, as report suggests assassination attempt backfired on those behind it

Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s message to Iraqi President Barham Salih on Tuesday was very similar to what Blinken said when he spoke to the Iraqi Prime Minister on Monday.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks to reporters in Washington. (Photo: AFP/Mandel Mgan)
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks to reporters in Washington. (Photo: AFP/Mandel Mgan)

WASHINGTON DC (Kurdistan 24) – Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke on Tuesday with Iraqi President Barham Salih, while a report by the highly-regarded Washington Post columnist, David Ignatius, suggested that Sunday’s assassination attempt on Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi has “backfired spectacularly.”

Ignatius has excellent sources in the Biden administration and the national security community more widely. It is likely that his perspective reflects a broader US view.

Blinken’s message to Salih on Tuesday was very similar to what Blinken said when he spoke to the Iraqi Prime Minister on Monday.

In speaking to Salih, Blinken expressed “his condemnation of the terrorist attack” that targeted Kadhimi’s residence, according to the US read-out of their conversation.

Blinken described it as “also an attack” on Iraq’s “sovereignty and stability,” while he “reiterated that our partnership with the Iraqi government and people is steadfast.”

The assassination attempt on Kadhimi has been widely condemned: internationally, including at the UN Security Council; regionally; and within Iraq, including the Kurdistan Region.

Read More: Joe Biden, world, regional, local leaders condemn attack on Iraqi PM

Assassination Attempt Backfires

“Even by the brutal political rules of Baghdad,” the assassination attempt on Kadhimi “appears to have shocked many Iraqis,” Ignatius wrote, “and undermined the Iranian-sponsored militias who have been trying to drive him from power.”

“There is enough circumstantial evidence pointing to Iran-backed Iraqi militias having orchestrated this attack,” Randa Slim, the Middle East Institute’s director of conflict resolution, told Ignatius.

“But it already backfired on them,” she continued. “It was a stupid and shortsighted move that achieved the exact opposite of their objective to deny Prime Minister Kadhimi a second term. This assassination attempt made his second term in office almost certain.”

Donald Trump and Iraq’s Pro-Iranian Militias: Two Peas in a Pod

The political parties that represent the militias—the Fatah Alliance—fared poorly in October’s election, coming in fifth with 17 seats, according to unofficial results: behind Muqtada al-Sadr’s Shi’a party, which was the big winner (73 seats); the Sunni Arab party, led by the Speaker of Parliament, Mohammad al-Halbousi (37); a second Shi’a party, led by former Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki (34); and the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP, 33.)

In addition, independents won 40 seats. As 165 seats are needed for a majority in the Iraqi parliament, it is unlikely that the Fatah Alliance will be part of the next government.

“Soon after the ballots were counted,” Ignatius explained, “the Iranian-backed groups began claiming fraud, although the polling had been monitored by the United Nations and other independent groups.”

“The militias even dubbed their protest movement ‘Stop the Steal’ in a bizarre reference to former president Donald Trump,” he continued.

Of course, Iran and its proxies do not need Trump’s example to understand how to undermine an election. Rather, they both seemed to draw from the same demagogue’s playbook.

First, you nourish a grievance among some significant segment of the population and then pose as their champion. That was easy in Iraq, where there are long-standing sectarian tensions, much exacerbated by ISIS’ assault on the country. It was harder in the US, but Trump managed to do it.

In tandem with that move, you delegitimize the existing institutions, and supplant them with ones loyal to you.

However, that did not really work in either the 2020 US election or Iraq’s 2021 election. Trump lost, and the Fatah Alliance lost. So then you declare fraud and supplement that claim with the threat of violence and even violence itself.

In Washington, the violence appeared most dramatically in the January 6, 2021, assault on the US Capitol, as Congress met to certify the results of the election, which according to the Electoral College, Joe Biden had won.

Great pressure had already been placed on Vice-President Mike Pence to declare those results invalid, but he had resisted. The January 6 siege, which resulted in the death of five people, was a last-ditch attempt to pressure Congress and Pence.

Of course, it failed, and Congress did declare Biden the next US president. Yet it was unprecedented in US history.

Since then, Trump has continued to claim that the election was stolen from him. According to opinion polls, the majority of Republican voters believe that as well. So most Republican politicians have gone along with it, as they don’t want to challenge Trump, lest they lose their seats in the next election.

In addition, threats against election officials in swing states which voted for Biden continue. The apparent rationale is that those officials were complicit in voter fraud.

And those Republicans who have broken ranks and denounced Trump—most notably, Liz Cheney (R, Wyoming)—have not only faced threats of violence from Trump’s supporters, but they have actually been punished by their own party.

So it is not really so “bizarre,” as Ignatius put it, that the pro-Iranian militias in Iraq should launch their own “stop the steal” movement. Rather, it indicates, only, that Americans, with their long experience, are much better than they are at crafting political slogans.